Terry Jones 1st February 1942 – 21st January 2020

The death has taken place of one of the greatest screen comics and writers we have been blessed to enjoy. Terry Jones started writing with Michael Palin after they graduated from Cambridge and they made their names on British TV as joke writers for people like John Bird and David Frost before collaborating with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam to create the landmark series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where Jones’ penchant for absurdity, satire and surrealism blended with his historical interests and a slight case of anarchy. Jones came into his own as a director of their frequently controversial films and directed other material as well as continuing a separate writing career as a mediaevalist, poet and children’s author. For most of us, though, he will be remembered as the immortal Mandy Cohen, mother of a very naughty boy. Goodnight Terry, you only went and revolutionised comedy while you were with us. It’s probably time for a rest.

Buck Henry 9th December 1930 – 8th January 2020

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The death has taken place of Buck Henry (Zuckerman), chiefly regarded as one of the best satirical screenwriters of the last 60 years, gifted with an eye for a good gag and a smart line. After an upper class education at Choate, Dartmouth and Harvard’s military academy, he became an actor and soon migrated to TV to write on Steve Allen and Garry Moore’s shows. He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks and then forged a big screen career with The Graduate. One of only three director-collaborating teams to be nominated for an Academy Award (with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait) his contribution to the culture is both prolific and immense. Rest in peace.

Anna Karina 22nd September 1940 – 14th December 2019

The beguiling French-Danish icon of the nouvelle vague has died at the age of 79.  So much more than Godard’s muse, she starred in several genres and literary adaptations for many directors, was a decent singer, novelist and directed films herself. She had a voice, grace and infinite talent. Adieu, Madame.

Danny Aiello 20th June 1933 – 12th December 2019

I was forty when I did my first movie. You’ll know Danny Aiello:  from his deadly line in The Godfather Part II: Michael Corleone says Hello!  to playing Madonna’s dad in the music video Papa Don’t Preach, you know him. From his dazzling start in Bang the Drum Slowly to his police chief namesake in Once Upon a Time in America to Mia Farrow’s husband in The Purple Rose of Cairo or Sal the pizzeria owner in Do The Right Thing, the titular character Ruby, or formerly successful film director Harry Stone in The Pickle, any time you see him you know this is going to be one hell of a good movie. What a legacy he leaves.  The hapless Romeo Johnny Cammereri in Moonstruck, Chester Grant in The Closer, Tommy Five-Tone in Hudson Hawk, Aiello seems as much at home in crazed comedy as serious drama. Sometimes he was a leading man in TV series, lots of times he supported short filmmakers and it’s ironic that his last completed work is Vinnie Favale and Patrick Kendall’s fantasy Hereafter Musical. He liked to sing and recorded and toured for the past two decades. He was probably Vincent Gardenia’s lucky charm because each time they appeared together Gardenia netted an Academy Award nomination. He wasn’t just good, he made everyone around him better. He took to acting late and had spent years working as a Greyhound Bus baggage handler and union rep. He got his start after he landed the role of emcee at The Improvisation comedy club where he’d been working nights as a bouncer. He was a great supporter of charities, donating to everything from AIDS to disabled children. He was a hell of an actor and lit up every role he took on, embodying the term class act. The auteurs certainly knew it but now he is gone. We have the films. Rest in peace.

Clive James 7th October 1939 – 24th November 2019

“Clive James rapidly established himself as one of the most influential metropolitan critics of his generation … The Observer hired him as a television reviewer in 1972, and for 10 years his weekly column was one of the most famous regular features in Fleet Street journalism, setting a style that was later widely copied.” So says Clive James’ obituary for himself. His death was announced today. One of the key cultural figures of my lifetime, I grew up reading, listening to and watching Clive James, the self-described larrikin who made it in England, the Australian intellectual who brought the public with him as he cast a wicked glance at celebrities, other nations, ridiculous TV, Formula One racing and general idiocy. From his TV column in The Observer where he wrote hilarious, eye-watering criticism, the first I ever read, to his Saturday night shows which lampooned everyone and anything with aplomb, he was a witty man whose way with words had an acid but jocular tone which was immensely appealing to wide audiences and yet came from a deeply learned core. He wrote beautiful poetry and marvellous memoirs (starting back in 1979) and following diagnosis of terminal illness a decade ago maintained a writing and journalistic regime that frequently ended up in caustic self-mockery that he was still alive. His poem Japanese Maple went viral when The New Yorker‘s paywall was down and he was embarrassed that said tree outlived him. Latterly he conducted a series of hugely informative interviews with writers, Talking in the Library. Now he is gone and I am filled with sorrow but also with gratitude that such a mind was permitted to broadcast when entertainment meant something, when you could make audiences howl with laughter about sadistic Japanese game shows on Saturday night and read Pushkin for relaxation, a keen brain equally at home with the esoteric and the profane. What a brilliant, lovely man.

Back at the gate, I turn to face the hill,
Your headstone lost again among the rest.
I have no time to waste, much less to kill.
My life is yours; my curse, to be so blessed.

Jonathan Miller 21st July 1934 – 27th November 2019

I’ve got this, I think, unjustified reputation for being grumpy. I’m angry or disappointed at the condescension which I encounter from people who are 30 years younger than I am and know 100 per cent less than I do. That’s all. The death has taken place of the sensationally gifted Jonathan Miller – writer, actor, humorist, director, who first came to prominence in that gifted generation who reinvented British comedy with the musical revue Beyond the Fringe. As a young director he was responsible for what remain two of the best films ever made by the BBC – an astonishing adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (probably the best ever) and Whistle And I’ll Come to You, a spooky tale by M.R. James regularly televised at Christmas. The star of that film would contribute years later to Miller’s groundbreaking medical series, The Body in Question. Another adaptation, this time of Kingsley Amis’s novel,  Take a Girl Like You, provided the material for his cinema debut, a sardonic take on romance. His theatre interests (the National, the Old Vic, Broadway) materialised on the small screen with the BBC Television Shakespeare project starting with King Lear and continuing with The Taming of the Shrew and Timon of Athens. His acclaimed stage productions garnered him several opportunities to direct opera including rocker Roger Daltrey in The Beggar’s Opera and he wrote many books particularly on neuropsychology. Supremely erudite, unbelievably witty and incredibly tall, this genial gentleman scholar belonged to an age sadly fast disappearing from view when the notion of the public intellectual recedes in significance. This giant of the culture shall be missed, never mind Private Eye. RIP. I have a simple formula as a director. It’s nothing more really than reminding singers of what they know already and have forgotten

Robert Forster 13th July 1941 – 11th October 2019

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A psychology grad who was headed for a career in law before he followed a beautiful girl into an acting audition, academically gifted (in the 99.9th percentile), wonderfully charismatic and a staple of several auteurs, the marvellous Robert Forster has died aged 78. Remarkably prolific, he clocked up 186 acting credits with that low drawling voice of his. He made a cracking debut (naked, on a horse) for John Huston in Reflections in a Golden Eye and had the lead in Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, one of several starring parts he had through the late Sixties and into the Seventies prior to the TV show Banyon where he was a PI in LA, a role that may have led him to direct and star in his own ‘tec movie, Hollywood Harry. For my generation he probably really came to attention with Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. He said of Tarantino’s decision to give him the cool noir hero role,  I’m not sure how a guy wins or loses in this business, but somebody’s got to come along and make you lucky. You can’t do it yourself.  He joked that he had been in obscurity for 27 years but he had worked steadily on TV, in B movies and with cult figures like Noel Black and Jess Franco. When Delta Force stuck him in bad guy roles for 13 years he became a motivational speaker and taught at film schools. Latterly of course he was in the rebooted TV series Twin Peaks twenty years after appearing for David Lynch in the TV pilot Mulholland Drive and then the feature; and he recently reprised the role of Ed for the Breaking Bad movie El Camino, which has just been released to great reviews and he is in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Amazing Stories series. What a wonderful actor. Rest in peace.  I just know this: If I can ever find a character where I get laughs, I hope that is the thing that endures. There’s nothing better than getting a laugh